John Dalli’s day in court lasted less than an hour due to concerns that the former EU Commissioner could be immune from prosecution on an alleged €60 million bribe from a smokeless tobacco lobby.
In the first sitting over the allegation, it was revealed that both the prosecution and Attorney General have raised questions over the potential immunity and are awaiting direction from the European Commission before continuing.
In reply, Dalli’s lawyer Stephen Tonna Lowell said that the prosecution is dragging its feet because it does not have a case. The sitting was adjourned.
A Maltese accountant-turned-politician, Dalli served in a long line of Nationalist governments between 1987 to 2010 before moving onto the European Commission.
He was appointed EU Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy in February 2010.
In 15th October 2012, the EU’s anti-fraud office (OLAF) passed on its first accusations that Silvio Zammit, Dalli’s longtime associate, had asked for €60 million from the European Smokeless Tobacco Council and Swedish Match, the main producer of Swedish snus, in return for Dalli’s help in changing European tobacco regulation.
Swedish Match was the one to report the claim to OLAF. At the time, Dalli was leading reforms to the EU’s tobacco directive. The tobacco lobby also allegedly solicited the help of Gayle Kimberley, an official at the Council of Ministers on leave.
Dalli was forced to resign a few days later. The EU, in its capacity, could not conduct criminal charges and passed the information to Malta.
Despite denying all knowledge of the bribe, Dalli did meet with tobacco lobbyists at Peppi’s Restaurant, which is owned by Zammit, in February 2012. OLAF’s investigation was opened soon after that meeting.
The report had found that Silvio Zammit had approached the company Swedish Match, through contacts with Dalli, and sought to gain financial advantages in exchange for influence over a possible future legislative proposal on the tobacco product snus.
There’s even an actual recording of one of these alleged extortion attempts, in which Zammit asks a tobacco lobbyist from ESTOC for €10 million. The woman is so shocked, she tells Zammit she’s “almost lying down”.
However, no transaction was concluded and no payment was made.
It should be noted that OLAF’s handling of the investigation, which was mainly based on circumstantial evidence and included illegal wiretaps, has received stinging criticism from MEPs, Dalli, and others since its conclusion.
Former Police Commissioner John Rizzo, who was Police Commissioner at the time and who had said that Dalli had a case to answer, was removed before charges against Dalli could be issued.
Zammit, one of Dalli’s aides, was charged in relation to the attempted bribe in 2012. Last year, a court ordered the case against Zammit to be closed after 16 no-shows by the Attorney General.
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